Waskesiu’s free tree harvest to prevent community blaze

(Greg Huszar/Submitted)

Jayda Noyes, Daily Herald

Decorating a real tree this holiday season could save it from fuelling a wildfire.

Parks Canada is letting you harvest your own Christmas tree from Waskesiu Park as part of their wildfire risk reduction program.

From Dec. 1 to 24, residents can harvest one tree per household for free.

The trees are primarily white spruce as well as some jack pine, which park ecologist Dustin Guedo said are combustible materials.

In 2002, Waskesiu created a community fuel break.

“Since then we’ve had to maintain the fuel breaks and part of that maintenance is to remove the regrowth of conifer fuels,” he said.

While taking down the trees before this initiative began three years ago, he said they recognized the heights of the regrowth are perfect to fit in homes.

Visitor services supervisor Leigh-Ann Ditzel also encouraged families to spend the day at the park skiing or snowshoeing, trying out their restaurant and making use of the warmup centres where, on weekends, they already have a fire going.

Living in Prince Albert, Ditzel is planning on spending a day in Waskesiu with her family and harvesting a tree.

“I’m not a big fan of the artificial (trees) just because they usually end up in a dump…maybe you had it for 10 years, but then it sits in the landfill for years and years and years, so I think going natural is actually better, especially when it’s something like this—a program that’s actually improving the area,” she said.

Those who are wanting to harvest a tree must first get a permit at the Visitor Centre.

They’ll also get a map of the designated area for harvesting.

In 2016, the park handed out 94 permits. That number more than doubled to 205 in 2017.

“We’re hoping to double that even again. We’ve had a big interest so far and actually we had somebody come in (on Friday), just a day early and we couldn’t provide, but he’s going to make the effort to come back (on Saturday), just because they were so excited,” she said.

She added people tend to question why a national park is cutting down trees.

Guedo said it’s important to remember why they’re removing them.

“We’re not cutting all of the trees; we’re not creating a clearcut. We’re removing the trees that are most threatening in a wildfire event and our number one priority is safety of people,” he said.

This is only one initiative of the park’s wildfire risk reduction program.

“We’re also doing other projects such as creating a fuel break on our east boundary next to Elk Ridge and so we’re trying to work with our neighbours,” said Guedo.

“If a wildfire is to occur in the area, it’s not just going to affect us, it’s also going to affect our neighbours.”

Parks Canada recommends anyone who harvests a tree dresses warm and brings extra clothes, a first aid kit, a thermos with a warm drink and a sled to help transport their tree.

Harvesters can only access the area on foot and use a handsaw or axe.

The park grows all trees free of pesticides or chemicals.